Daily Archives: September 24, 2012

Kirchensteuer: Which Was The Vatican’s Role?

Cecco del Caravaggio – “Gesu’ caccia i mercanti dal Tempio”.

Before I pass – in the very next days – to the exam of how the latest invention of the German bishops is NOT what the Vatican said in 2006 (besides being obviously simoniacal), I would like to say two words about the role I think the Vatican has played in the matter.

In the only contribution I have read which gave a precise description of the Vatican position on the German decree, the verb used was that the Vatican has “rekognosziert” the decree.

Now, “rekognoszieren” is a word which in German can be placidly called non-existent in the usual sense of the word, though you will find it in the vocabulary. There are, though, the vastly more spread Italian verb “riconoscere”, and Latin verb “recognoscere”, which are, as I understand them, somewhat complicated words.

Let us say that I understand that the Communist Chinese government is the authority holding sway over the land. I “acknowledge” that they are in power, and deal with it accordingly. I will have an embassy, for example, and give the head of state the honours of the head of state when he comes to visit. I am simply recognising a reality, a fact of life.

I will also call the Archbishop of Canterbury “Your Grace”, because even if he is clearly a layman without holy orders, I recognise the fact that the English Government considers him to be an Archbishop. Of course he isn’t; but again, of course he is.

Now, this does not mean that I approve the Communist Chinese government; nor does this mean that I consider the Archbishop of Canterbury a real archbishop. Very simply, they are there and I deal with it, recognising a reality already in place.

Now, it is to me rather peculiar that the Vatican was not said to, say, “approve” (Zustimmen), or even the in my Italian eyes somewhat less explicit  Anerkennen the German decree, but merely to “rekognoszieren” it. It seems to me a linguistic gymnastic which can only have one meaning: the Vatican does not give an official seal of approval, but merely recognises that this is the interpretation of the German bishops.

Of course, this is the usual Benedict-style, “run with the hare and hunt with the hounds” attitude, and its aim seems to be to bend over backwards to allow – or let us say it Vatican style: not disallow – the German Bishops to maintain that their take is at least not in contradiction with Church teaching, whilst at the same time avoiding the unspeakable simoniacal shame of declaring urbi et orbi that the Church feels free to give sacraments only against fixed money payments in a measure decided by themselves.

My understanding of what has happened is therefore – and until I manage to know more about the matter – that the Vatican is saying  something on the lines of: “well, it’s complicated; I have given guidelines in 2006 which repeat what I understand as an Austritt (exit) which would justify an excommunication; but you have now put a certain interpretation on it and I recognise as a fact, acknowledge the reality that this is the way you German Bishops see things”.

It can’t be denied that the Bishops’ decree is in striking contrast to the Vatican instructions (themselves not a novelty; mere Catholic sense) given to the very same German bishops in 2006 (and object of the next blog post, hopefully).

My impression is that the Holy Father – whom we know was personally involved in this decree – wanted a formula allowing him to let them free to go on as they wished ( = ka-ching) but without appearing to approve of their position as they would have wanted.

The result was, methinks,  this neither meat nor fish decision, and this strange, factually unused verb “rekognoszieren”.


Kirchensteuer: What It Is And How It Survived

Marinus van Reymerswaele, “The moneychanger and his wife”.

Before I write another post about the Kirchensteuer, I think it necessary to give some enlightenment (at least according to my limited lights) about the genesis and – more importantly – the place of the Kirchensteuer in the German Weltanschauung.

It is widely reported that the Kirchensteuer was introduced as compensation for expropriation of Church patrimony. This is, of course, nothing else than a historic remnant, which in itself would not in the least justify the existence of such a “tax”.

Firstly, Italy, France and many other countries have seen massive expropriation, without anyone ever being even tempted to propose or even to think anything of the sort (I have already explained that the beautiful sette per mille in Italy is a completely different cup of tea, whose adoption in Germany I would salute enthusiastically; not so the German Bishops…). Secondly, the amount collected through the Kirchensteuer (between 7% and 9% of the tax bill of the vast Catholic population in Germany) is such a vast amount that to justify it with past expropriations is an example of very bad numeracy.

No: the reason for the existence of the Kirchensteuer (paid, let us not forget it, by Protestant and Jews alike) is a social and cultural one, and it is the change of the social and cultural framework which will, in the long-term or perhaps earlier, destroy this anachronistic institution.

The Germans are an extremely gregarious people. If Italians are foxes, Germans are wolves. They think and act in group, and to them the community and the idea of doing things together – and to oblige themselves to do things together – is much stronger than among Italians, French, Spaniards or Britons.

Whilst this can be bad in certain situations (say: a country fighting under the bombs with utterly remarkable tenacity, to an extent which to the individualistic oriented Italians seems senseless; nay, inconceivable) it has in the past brought remarkable advantages. From the health system to the system of state pension (which in Germany were and are based on an insurance and cooperative system rather than on a state-owned mammoth; note once again the mentality of close-knitted communities spending their money efficiently) to the cooperative banks, Germans have always had a knack for this idea that they cooperate, and are therefore stronger. I struggle to recall now from my younger years at school a more complex, powerful and successful example of widely ramified alliance than the Hansa, another clear fruit of – if also spread outside Germany – German thinking.

This mentality, which pre-dates the Kirchensteuer, was a fertile humous for such a system. The Germans wanted to pay in a cooperative way, and the Kirchensteuer worked because it corresponded to the German way of thinking.

But this mentality – and this is very important – works only until the Germans see value for the money they pay. They reacted – literally – violently  when the waste and political correctness following the Reunification proved to them the money was massively wasted away; they are exceptionally attentive that their social security system – the most efficient in the West, I am sure – gives a good return for the costs it causes (and it does!); they handle based on a principle that as long as they know “where the money goes” there will be no great discussion as to the lawfulness of such an operation, or the opportunity of having the Church going to bed with the State in such a rather scandalous manner.

It was a win-win. The measure was accepted among the masses; the Government cared for the receipt of the money in a far more economical way than the Church and the other organisations would have ever been able to; most Catholics (nay: most people) were rather poor, and their payments a pittance anyway. And it was all so, so German…

Then the changes came.

The explosion of mass welfare in post-war Germany led to an expansion of the welfare state; which led to an expansion of taxation, now rather painful even at low-income levels, and brutal already at medium-income level. This in turn led to a literal explosion of the Church’s revenues.  Therefore, not only we saw an explosion of incomes per se, but an even more pronounced explosion of revenues as the taxation of low and average incomes grew more than proportionally.

In Germany, you never hear the Church complaining about high taxation. They have their snouts right there in the trough. Smart move for the government, too. This is also what made the Church in German so influential already in V-II times: they who pay the most will, human nature being what it is, probably be the loudest (and no, the Vatican is certainly not above such influences; by far not).

Secondly, this vast wealth has made of the German-speaking churches the ones with the richest clergy around. Your average German priest has an income your average non-priest Scot or Welsh can only dream of, and is rather well situated even in comparison to the other Germans. His income is linked to the one of the German Beamte, the life-hired, middle and higher echelons of the Public Service. Once again, they are fully linked to a very powerful lobby, and as they do not have children their disposable income is, for a priest, more than remarkable. The factory worker, the shop employee, the small accountant slowly take notice, and wonder, because they don’t even go to church anymore.

Which leads us neatly to the massive social shift in the attitude of Catholics, once disciplined soldiers of the German church and now utterly indifferent to everything going in the way of their adulterous or contraceptive behaviour. This, the German church deserves entirely; they had it coming and they should now complain only with themselves. By trying to pander to the feelings of their wandering sheep, the stupid German clergy alienate them long-term, and make themselves despised by the children of those entrusted to their care. The grandchildren will not even think of ever paying the Kirchensteuer. It serves the German clergy right, by the way.

Fourthly – and I think the least important factor as far as revenue is concerned, but the most explosive for devout Catholics – there is the scandalous waste of public money for things that have nothing to do with being Catholic: a big administrative apparatus, scandalous “ecumenical” initiatives everywhere, and so on. The Church in Germany has become so little Catholic, that Catholics finally start to question the Catholicity of an obligatory and automatic payment. 

Summa summarum: what one hundred years ago were small payments for most, made by devout Catholics who knew their money went to a serious organisation who spent the money wisely, have now become substantial payments the Church demands from largely non-churchgoers who know their money is wasted by an over-fed apparatus (and for devout Catholics: in non-Catholic or even scandalous initiatives).

Now, how could the system survive as the pressure built up? Basically in two ways:

1) By shrinking. The system has been creaking for many years now, and the number of Kirchensteuer-payers decreasing regularly. Mostly were, though, non-churchgoers. It is only in the last years that the system has started to show serious fissures.

2) By social pressure. Think again of how gregarious the Germans are. Merely to be seen to want to subtract oneself to a solidarity payment smells ( or used to smell) of Southern-European anarchy, and of menace to the world as we know it. Even among Protestants (many of them, let me assure you, as atheist as Mao) the resistance to the Austritt (the exit out of the system) is fairly strong. The Proddies react, by the way, exactly like the Catholic hierarchy: they lick their people’s plates, and hope for the best.

You wish. 

I hope this has given a cultural framework – at least as I understand it – of why the Kirchensteuer was born; why it operated fairly well for some decades without any massive moral questioning or legal challenge; why it created an explosion of revenues and with it of corruption, addiction and waste, whilst at the same time creating an unholy alliance between tax-imposing politicians and tax-cashing clergy; and why all this is now slowly crumbling, caught in the middle between mickey-mouse Catholics who want sacraments against their money, real Catholics who do not want their money to be used to finance an utterly corrupted apparatus, enslaved to the money of the adulterous and contracepting crowds, and a shameless clergy who wants money against sacraments, or at least wants you to believe that without paying the first you won’t have access to the second.

But for the latter consideration, you’ll have to wait for an ad hoc post.



Two Words On “Actuosa Participatio”

Following my blog post some days ago about the extremely interesting blog Ars Orandi, I would like to make some observations – perhaps controversial, perhaps not – about the way my poor lights understand the actuosa participatio.

We all agree if one sits on the pew thinking of the afternoon’s football match you he is way short of the mark. We also all agree one should try to participate to Mass according to his own ability. But after reading the very interesting considerations of the author of the above mentioned blog, I could not avoid reasoning that in times past (pre Second Vatican Disaster) there were a lot of not so well-educated people  who insisted in praying their rosary or their devotion during Mass rather than, as S. Pius X so beautifully puts it, “praying the Mass”. I know that this is the case from what I have heard in my family of what happened in past decades, and for having seen “church scenes” on several occasions in Italian films of the past.

There can be no doubt – I think – the ideal form of following the Mass is the already mentioned “praying the Mass” so beautifully encouraged by Pope St. Pius X. Still, it is a fact several decades later many members of the (oh, blast the political correctness…) working class still preferred the method of praying  their own prayers during Mass, at least in Italy.

The latter way was, as a modern business consultant would put it, sub-optimal. But I wonder: was that not actuosa partecipatio, too? Could it be that the lady telling her beads was not also following – in a more generic way – what was happening at Mass? Could it that she missed the fundamental structure of the Mass, did not know when the Consecration was, and did not have at least an inkling of what was happening on the altar as she prayed? I think we can safely exclude it (for example, try to overlook the dramatic spiritual intensity of the Consecration in a Traditional Mass, if you can…).

Fast forward to the present times, when the wonderful reforms of the Second Vatican Castration force us to repeat many times what the priest has just said as if we were in kindergarten. Is this participatio more actuosa than the one of the old woman once going through he rosary beads; or does it tend to become rather a mechanical repetition of a ceremony not really lived in its spiritual intensity (much diminished in the Novus Ordo anyway), and not understood in its supernatural significance?

Mind: the old semi-illiterate woman telling her beads did not have any doubt about the significance of the Consecration whilst the Novus Ordo pewsitters,  who are considered unable to even listen to a Psalm without repeatedly parroting one line, seem to struggle massively with the concept.

If we reflect on these and other examples (does the frantic hand-shaking help to stay near Christ? Or does it lead us away from Him, plunging us in the “community” dimension?), we must agree that actuosa participatio must not be defined within the limits of what is physically “done” at Mass in response to of accompaniment of the Priest’s doing, but must be extended at the way the pewsitter – and be he as uneducated as you like, and uncomfortable with anything other than his rosary-  is “with it” as the Mass happens, fully aware of what is happening if very probably unaware of the minutiae of the procedure.  

Of course, the priest’s attention in saying the black and doing the red must be, I think, obsessive. But this is in order for the priest to be able to forget himself as he celebrates the Mass and take every personalised or ego-driven aspect out of it. As in every kind of formal procedure – take the famous “Zen tea ceremony” –   the celebrant forgets himself as he strictly follows a complex procedure not leaving him any space for ego-digressions, which is the reason why such kind of strictly regulated procedures – even outside of Christianity – never fail to attract the admired approval of the public.

But must the pewsitter be a parrot of the priest? Must he try to become another Zen master of ceremonies?  Of course, the nearer he can follow the Mass, the better; but failing that, isn’t the old peasant saying her beads vastly better in her participation to mass than the modern crowds even – I have seen it many times – playing or drawing with their little children on the pews? Pray, what kind of “participation” is this? And why is such a kind of participation nowadays almost universally approved of, whilst the old woman saying her beads was suddenly not good enough? 

Therefore my conclusion is: let the translated missals be distributed and used as widely as possible, and let us encourage everyone to “pray the Mass” as closely as they can. But let us put in the centre the actual understanding of the supernatural function of the Mass, and let us allow those who are not educated enough to feel comfortable with the strict following of the Mass to follow the Mass in their own prayerful and devout way.

It is the priest who must “say the black and do the red”, not the pewsitter.



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